Over 70% of all small businesses in the United States have just one owner. That means over 21 million people carry a lot of weight on their solitary shoulders. And many walk around projecting an image of success that covers over a very different, and darker, reality.
Why the gap?
It often comes down to imposter syndrome, or “solo shame.”
Solo shame is the feeling of humiliation or distress caused by mistakes and bad judgment in your business. It’s often compounded by the belief that every other business owner has it all together, and others will judge you for showing vulnerability.
As a result, mistakes stay hidden. And fester. And get made over and over again.
Solo shame can manifest in different ways:
- As risk aversion, which impedes growth: “I was so scared of failure, I dragged my feet starting and growing my business,” confessed Pratibha Vuppuluri, Chief Blogger at She Started It (http://shestartedit.co/), an online resource for working moms. Vuppuluri went through a major career shift, starting her company after more than 10 years’ experience in the financial services industry. When embarking on something new, or growing to a new level beyond our normal skill set, the question “Am I good enough?” can be a haunting one for many women business owners.
- As “I don’t deserve help”: Kelsey Formost, a copywriting expert in Los Angeles (http://www.kelseyformost.com), admitted losing an estimated five figures in revenue because she procrastinated building the technological infrastructure she needed to attract and serve clients. “The technology intimidated me,” she said. “All the online businesswomen I admired had these gorgeous, seamless websites that looked so professional, and mine looked like a school project. The technology seemed so insurmountable, I shut down completely.” Donna Miller, president and founder of C3 Workplace (http://www.c3workplace.com/) understands why. She found through her research that asking for help is often perceived as weakness. “Men are more likely to form teams and have a sense of organizational structure from the get-go,” noticed Miller. By contrast, points out Nance Schick, Esq., founder of 3rd Ear Conflict Resolution (https://www.3DEarlisteners.com/), women and girls are often socialized not to speak up or stand out — to serve as helpers, not leaders. As a result, they have a tendency to pile more on their own plates instead of create the team to share the burden.
- As stubborn refusal to face overwhelm. Many solo business owners are in knowledge-based, non-inventory service businesses. They come from a white-collar training that prizes learning and intellectual achievement. There’s an innate embarrassed to ask for help because “I should be smart enough to figure this out”. Therefore, as Schick points out, they won’t delegate, because doing so would be an admission they can’t handle it all.
That’s a big challenge facing many solo business owners.
So how can you get out of your own way to allow your life and business to thrive?
- Know your goals. Your strategy for success may seem crazy to others. So what? That doesn’t matter if it’s right for you. For example, Miller had brought a partner into her company and gave her a 30% equity share. Lots of people said she was nuts, but as a mother of two special needs kids, a business partner gave her flexibility and freedom to be a true parent advocate for them. Likewise, expert sales copywriter Tania Dakka (https://www.taniadakka.com/) had no desire to build an empire, but wanted to get back to the kind of work she loved. She couldn’t do that as the bottleneck for so many aspects of her company. Her solution: hire a fractional COO/project manager to handle many of the details of client service and administration. This freed up Dakka to focus on higher-value activities to move her business forward.
- Embrace the risk. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying. Suzanne Evans, an Inc. 500/5000 business coach known for her outspoken style (http://www.driveninc.com) says, “If you’re truly an entrepreneur who is hustling, driven, thirsty, and trying to be innovative and stay ahead of the curve, you’ve probably stepped in five shit pies this morning alone. Even running a multi-million-dollar business as Evans does, she says, “in my business, only 20% of everything I do works. So 80% fails. But I have to do the other 80%, or I won’t know what the 20% is.”
- Get a bigger brain. There’s no substitute for the way outside support expands your thinking. As Miller says, “Make sure to surround yourself with people who tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Don’t be the smartest person in the room. You should always feel a little uncomfortable about the next step.” She also recommends working with a coach or consultant to get that “C-suite mindset on a fractional basis.” A former micromanager, Miller’s staff didn’t just turn over – they “churned.” There was a pool to bet on how long people would last. (One didn’t come back after lunch). She hired a consultant to help her write job descriptions and create a behavioral interview process. She now has a values-driven culture, a thriving team, and can step away from the day-to-day running of her business.
Finally, stop focusing your energies on what your competitors are doing, and concentrate more on articulating your point of view. What’s the lens through which you see the world? What do you stand for … and for whom?
“There’s a reason horses wear blinders in the Kentucky Derby,” says Evans. “Because if they look to the left or the right they can lose 1/10 of a second, which can cost them the race. How many tenths of a second are entrepreneurs losing every minute because they’re so worried about the person to the left and the right of them?”